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Exciting YA fiction


••• The International Writers Magazine: YA Fiction

Who runs the World by Virginia Bergin
• Sophie Bee review

River is fourteen and has never seen a male, until now. She lives in a world where a virus has wiped out nearly all the men, three generations before her lifetime. When River finds an unconscious male, or as she calls them, an XY, it changes her and all other women’s lives unimaginably, as they question how differently males are treated.

Who runs the world

By taking away a whole sex from society, this novel deals with the effects of stereotyping. In notes from the author at the end of the book, Virginia Bergin explains that she wanted to explore a reversal of the oppression women face today.

The Granmummas, the oldest generation in this new world, are the only ones still alive to have witnessed the beginning of the virus and grieve for the loss of their men, whilst the younger generations are taught to believe the world is better without them. They are taught that men are the reason for wars, death, rape and all the negativity of the once-was (the time before the virus) world. The use of stereotyping men in this way shows an example of the consequences of stereotyping, applicable to both genders.

A simple, yet effective, use of language is the way Bergin first refers to the boy as ‘It’, then as ‘Creature’, then as ‘him’ and then finally uses his name ‘Mason’. This tool allows the reader to easily recognise the changing attitudes River has towards the boy, as well as other characters. The older generations use ‘him’ and younger generations tend to use ‘it’ to describe him.

Another tool I found effective was the modifications on the text, such as putting certain words in bold or italics and the use of lists centred in the middle of the page. It suits the age of the character whilst creating emphasises on certain words or phrases.

There was little mention of relationships throughout this novel. Despite romantically hoping that River and Mason would ride off into the sunset on her old motorbike, that was not the aim of the novel. River seems to have a romantic relationship with one of her school friends, but there are just passing mentions of this and no story is wasted on it. Unusual for a novel in the young adult genre, yet fitting with the story, as in a world without men there would be no need for procreation and no need for heterosexual relationships.

Despite Bergin’s clever use of arguing against gender stereotyping throughout most of the novel, some parts can be counter-feminist. Today it is emphasised that women dress for themselves and not to impress men, however in this novel it is described that women almost stop caring about their appearance because there are no men around to impress. Also, when the boy is brought back to the village the Granmummas are making cakes and cleaning the house excessively, which seems the author is referring to stereotypical gender roles unnecessarily.

The loss of men seems to mean that all violence, wars and other negativities are removed from the world. Yet this idea is never explained in any detail. The idea that women are also capable of violence is not at all considered. This idea negatively adheres to gender stereotypes and blames men for all the violence in the world which seems anti-feminist and bordering on manhating, as the definition of feminism is gender equality.

Despite the confusions between manhating and feminism, and confused use of gender stereotypes, I enjoyed reading this book. It has a gripping plot and engaging characters and I was satisfied with the mostly happy ending. The descriptions of the new dystopian man-less world were also interesting and mostly believable.
© Sophie Bee October 2017
Sophie Bee is studying for her Masters at Lincoln University

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